By TONY BARNHART
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 05/31/07
Destin, Fla. — If SEC football coaches have any say, college football will stick with one national signing period for high school recruits.
The idea of adding an early signing period, which has gained steam in other conferences, was shot down in a 9-3 vote by SEC coaches Wednesday.
"When we looked at how it would actually work, it just didn't fit," Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said after the vote at the SEC's annual league meetings. "It is not the way to go."
Unlike college basketball, in which recruits can sign letters of intent during the fall or spring, college football has only has one period, in February. For football to add a signing period, it likely would need significant support among the coaches, who then would have to petition the Collegiate Commissioners Association for approval.
Earlier this month, ACC coaches voted in favor of an early signing period, to be held the Wednesday before the third week in December. Several ACC coaches said they believed it would give high school players who have already made up their minds an opportunity to end the recruiting process and enjoy the rest of their senior years.
Big 12 coaches also have endorsed an early period. Pac-10 coaches voted against it.
A day before the SEC vote, Fulmer made the argument that an early period could be a cost-saving measure for colleges, many of which have six-figure football recruiting budgets. In the current system, high school players often decide where they want to attend college months before the February signing period but continue to be recruited by that school — and others — because the commitments are non-binding. An early signing period, Fulmer said, would put an end to that.
"It would save us a lot of baby-sitting time," he said.
But other coaches argued that an early signing period would make the fall — when coaches should be concentrating on games — one long recruiting period.
"If we have an early signing period, then we'll start pushing for earlier visits [by recruits]," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "Everything would get pushed up and then next thing you know, you don't concentrate on the players you have. I'm afraid it would be a lot more than we asked for."
Mississippi State's Sylvester Croom said it didn't take long for his fellow coaches to realize how an early period would change their lives.
"If you have an early signing date, then that becomes the signing date," Croom said. "That means that every home football game will be an official visit weekend, and as soon as the game is over you're out recruiting again. It doesn't give you enough time to properly evaluate a high school player. The longer the process goes, the more you find out about them."
Kentucky's Rich Brooks, Vanderbilt's Bobby Johnson and LSU's Les Miles were the three SEC coaches who voted for an early period. Brooks said he wasn't surprised the vote went the way it did, saying there's a reason coaches from traditional powers like having just one date.
"I'm sure they feel like they can come in late and pick off some guys who are verbally committed," he said. "That has to be an issue in this."